Transform Your Desserts into Nutritious Treats

chocolate cake

It is widely known that whole grains should compromise most of the grains consumed daily, but many people may find this a hard goal to achieve – largely because of the flavors associated with whole grains. 

Many popular baked dessert recipes rely on the use of refined flours to produce a light and fluffy outcome. Though it is a preferred alternative, the general consensus is that using a heavier whole grain flour might not produce the same taste and texture.

But finding ways to slightly modify a recipe to include more nutritious whole grains is a health-wise choice and important when considering that whole grain consumption has been linked to the reduction of several chronic diseases.

Though initially, it might seem unlikely, there are truly a variety of treats that can be modified to increase whole grain content. So why not experiment with the ever-popular chocolate cake as a way to start changing recipes for a healthier eating outlook?

Besides tasting great, chocolate cake has deep, rich flavors that hold up well and tastefully during experimentation.

I’ve saved you some of the work in figuring out how best to do the substitution --- during my studies for a degree in dietetics, I conducted the experiment with friends using my childhood favorite chocolate cake recipe.

To determine how the cakes performed in terms of taste, texture, and appearance, I replaced all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour in various increments, exchanging 25 percent, 50 percent and 75 percent of the all-purpose, or white, flour.

I wanted to be able to show that it was possible to improve the fiber, vitamin, and mineral content of the chocolate cake while still retaining the characteristic fluffy texture and smooth chocolaty flavor.

To accomplish the experiment, each cake was baked using identical ingredients (with the exception of the whole wheat flour varying in amounts for cakes B, C, and D), cake pan and baking temperature.

With each increase in whole wheat flour, the baking time slightly increased.  This is important and does reveal that the quantity of whole grain flour to a recipe does make a difference in terms of baking time.

After the cakes were sufficiently cooled, the ends were cut to help determine how much each cake rose as it baked. Using a ruler, each cake was measured -- and interestingly showed similar increases in height. It was particularly surprising that the cake containing the highest percentage of whole wheat flour rose to about the same level as others.

Five panelists were then chosen to taste test the samples, using a score sheet to analyze each piece of cake. Each panelist did not know the changes made to the cake and was not allowed to talk to each other during the test. Each piece of cake was placed into a small bowl and labeled A, B, C or D.  After panelists made their final selections, the changes made to the cakes were revealed.

The outcome of this experiment was interesting and certainly surprised the panelists. Four out of the five panelists preferred Cake B (25 percent whole wheat flour) as their favorite, versus Cake A (original recipe), which was the expected favorite.  Even more surprising, panelists rated Cake C (50 percent whole wheat flour) nearly the same as the original recipe. This shows home bakers that the flour content in a chocolate cake can be made into a 50/50 blend of fine white flour and whole wheat flour without anyone noticing any unappealing textures or flavors. 

As a prospective dietitian, I found these results to be promising from a health perspective. The consumption of whole grains tends to be lower than recommended, and finding ways to “sneak” whole grains into products not otherwise assumed to have them, is one approach to boosting the intake of whole grains.

Various studies indicate that in any given quantity, whole wheat flour will inevitably increase vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which in turn positively affects the glycemic index and has the potential to lower cholesterol in humans.

The beneficial nutritional qualities of whole grain flours are mainly due to the presence of favorable compounds located in the germ and bran.  All-purpose flour has been stripped of the germ and bran and although the flour will generally produce a light and fluffy product, the glycemic index is higher than whole wheat flour and can lead to high plasma glucose levels as well.

So go ahead and sneak those whole grains into your desserts and treats! You just might be surprised by how many people don’t notice at all.

The Recipes

Original Recipe (Cake A) No-Egg Chocolate Cake

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • 2 t baking soda
  • 1 t salt
  • 2 T vinegar
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2 t vanilla extract
  • 2 cups cold water

Directions:

This applies to the original recipe and each modification

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Combine flour(s), sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Stir until combined.
  3. In a separate mixing bowl, combine the vinegar, canola oil, vanilla extract and cold water. Stir until combined.
  4. Place wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until batter is smooth.
  5. Pour batter into greased and floured 9 x 13-inch cake pan.
  6. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  7. Cool slightly on wire racks before serving.

Modifications

**All other ingredients stay the same**

Modification #1 (Cake B) 

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour*
*Whole wheat content: 25 percent

Modification #2 (Cake C)

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour*
*Whole wheat content: 50 percent

Modification #3 (Cake D)

¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 ¼ cups whole wheat flour*
*Whole wheat content: 75 percent

Note: Various references were used during this experiment and documentation has been verified, including the Journal of Food Science; Agricultural Research; Cereal Chemistry; and European Food Research and Technology.

About the Author

Author: Kara Pitou, Volunteer

Kara Pitou is a volunteer at Lompoc Valley Medical Center: Hospital’s Nutrition Services department. She has a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and has volunteered at Vandenberg Air Force Base’s 30th Medical Group, the Santa Maria Discovery Museum, as well as the Santa Barbara County Foodbank.

Other Articles Written by This Author